Our World Boundaries

November 1933

Sound and Fury in Germany

by Alice Hamilton, M.D.

[Professor of Industrial Medicine, Harvard Medical School]

A VISIT to Hitler's Germany sends an American home a passionate democrat, at least that is the effect it had on me. The Statue of Liberty thrilled me for the first time, it really seemed to stand for something more than spread-eagleism. The newspapers that appeared on the steamer from somewhere as we sailed up the harbor were wonderfulăthey had news, facts, criticisms, not woolly masses of sentimentality, fantastic nonsense about the Nordic race, vile lies about political opponents. New York seemed to breathe a spirit of freedom; if there was shocking poverty, at least the fact was faced and admitted; even Tammany Hall seemed a tolerable nuisance so long as one could call it a nuisance at the top of one's voice without fear of landing in a concentration camp. I feel like advising all the bitter critics of our "planless, disorganized state" to make a sojourn, as long as possible, in a country where every detail of life has been carefully planned by a small group of supermen and the plan imposed on the nation with finality, no time being wasted on persuasion and conversion. Those who have been urging us to abolish Congress and legislatures and city councils might try living for a while under the "leadership principle." I prophesy they will return home either anarchists or Patrick Henry patriots.

The Revolution was less than six weeks old when I reached Germany and though matters were moving with lightning speed, so that people dreaded to open their morning papers lest they find some new devastating governmental decree, there was much that was still only foreshadowed, there was hope that the whole program might not be put through. This was true with regard to labor and the status of the great trades-unions. The working-class quarters of Berlin in April were waiting, breathless, silent, to hear what their fate was to be. They had been, of course, the strongholds of Socialism, for the organized workers belonged to that party, but they were a lso centers of Communism, especially among the unemployed.

A social worker well known to many Americans, who must remain anonymous, was one of the first people we visited and she gave us the picture as she saw it:

I cannot tell you anything definite about the labor movement. Most of the leaders are gone, they have disappeared or they are known to be in concentration camps or they have escaped over the border. Our people are cowed and silent and I think many have lost heart. You see nothing has been printed except Nazi propaganda against the Republic for the last three months and nothing but that has been heard over the radio and it has had some effect on the rank and file, especially as no refutation could possibly be made in any newspaper. There were, it is true, irregularities in the former government of Berlin and other cities, many inefficiencies and some dishonesty, so that the stories in the newspapers have some basis and this is having an effect on the workers who have been left leaderless. About two thirds of the workers in this city were Socialists, one third Communists. We do not know what the labor program of the Nazis is, if they have one So far it is only abuse of Marxism and vague promises of jobs which may perhaps be kept but we cannot see how, since industry is utterly disorganized. If Hitler fails, anything may happen. Many of the Nazis were formerly Communists, they could easily revert. What hunger, cold and disillusionment would bring, one does not dare imagine. One of our hardest problems now is how to feed the familiee, hundreds of them, with no bread-winner left, afraid to ask for public relief.

The papers told us to wait for Hitler's speech on labor, to be given on May 1, on the day long consecrated to labor. A tiood of propaganda had prepared us for this great day, which was to be the dawn of a new future for German labor. Goebbels had been in his best form in a proclamation issued just before. I extracted one paragraph, which is typical of the whole:

Marxism lies in ruins on the ground. It had to die in order that German labor might find its way to freedom, that our nation might again be a nation. Where formerly Marxist songs of hate resounded, there shall we proclaim brotherhood to the workers. Where once the machineguns of the Reds scattered bullets, there we will make a breach for class freedom; where once a spirit of materialism triumphed there we, resting on the eternal right of our nation to freedom, labor and bread, will proclaim the union of all classes, races (sic!) and callings in a new glowing idealism before our own nation and before all the world.

May Day came, with its processions of boys and girls, men and women, singing as they marched to the Tempelhof, where they gathered, the largest single audience ever assembled in Germany, to hear the labor speech of the Leader. We listened to it over the radio with a little group of countrymen, all full of eagerness to know what the Nazi labor program would be, how they would deal with unemployment and with the great trades-unions. We got nothing but what we disrespectful Americans call ballyhoo. It was the sort of speech that would be made before a Civic Federation audience or a Manufacturers' Association: flowery sentiments about the brotherhood of workers with brawn and workers with brain, about commonweal instead of individual profit, about a united country where employer and employe march hand in hand for the Fatherland. There was nothing that could be called a program, a definite plan, and our little group of Americans marvelled that Hitler would dare to so disappoint his waiting followers.

But the next day his real plan was carried out without warning. The trades-unions were dissolved, a leader of labor was appointed (the Ley whom the labor representatives in Geneva later refused to recognize), the "principle of leadership" was substituted for democratic majority rule, the funds and properties of the unions were taken over. I talked later about this with two liberals. One was a writer of sociological articles. He said:

The unions built their own headquarters, using their own money, they also built workers' houses, some very good, these are all now in the possession of the government. It has also taken possession of all funds, though Goebbels says that this is not confiscation, only protection of the workers' money from cheats and thieves. The unions had sent some three million R.M. out of Germany to their international offices, which they had a legal right to do, but when things began to look very serious after the Reichstag fire, they wished to be absolutely above reproach and, against the advice of their comrades abroad, they called the money back. Now it has been confiscated.

The other, a prominent social worker in an industrial city, pointed out to me a great building which the unions had put up with their own funds, but which was then headquarters for the Brown Shirts. He said:

The unions still preserve their identity within the great group but their heads are all Nazis, appointed by Berlin. Hitler is trying to follow the Italian plan in this as in so many fields, but the Italian unions were never really strong, the German unions were. It is a question whether they will be as submissive.

I did my best to discover what the policy of the Nazis with regard to labor really was. The whole world has known for years that Hitler's movement was financed by the great industrialists on his promise to drive out Communism and break up the trades-unions, but on the other hand we were told that many workers had been won to his cause by his promise to make Germany truly Socialistic, a country of equal opportunity, where there should be neither rich nor poor.

MY curiosity led me to wade through the flood of flowery speeches in the papers, but with results which were about as valuable as this, the comment on Hitler's May Day speech in that great newspaper, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, for May 2:

One must read the speech in order to see the breadth of his program but however important this is, the mind of the hearer goes back to the impression of a man filled with glowing zeal, yes obsessed with the idea to build Germany into a nation, to fuse into one whole, regardless of class, religion, social standing, a nation which will have an unbridled zeal for home and freedom. One source of Hitler's fascination for the mass is that he speaks their language, he can handle the most diflficult problem with amazing simplicity. The idea that the work of hand and brain are of equal value may be said to be hardly new, but nobody till now has carried it out. His program, compulsory labor, which will take away the stigma from manual work, the lowering of interest rates, will arouse confidence and hope and encourage new enterprises. German production is to be stimulated without harm to agriculture. Hitler's aim is to free individual initiative and creative impulse from the cramping influence of the majority will.

The Voelkischer Beobachter, Hitler's own paper, said:

The Nazi party has always had as its object to lead back to the nation the workers who have so long been estranged from it, infected by the poison of Marxism. Let it be the true fulfillment of the revolution to make these homeless men again into Germans.

Hitler's own book, Mein Kampf, written when he was in prison in 1923 and since revised and issued as authoritative in a 1933 edition, contains his program for all phases of national life. I turned to it but found surprisingly little on labor, in a book that is unconscionably wordy on almost every possible subject. Hitler says that the German trades-unions did fight the battles of labor for years and won great improvements in hours, wages and conditions of work. He recognizes their services, sees that they were indispensable under the old system and that the opposition of the employers was shortsighted and against the best interests of the country. Then, after this sensible treatment of the subject, he suddenly switches over to a typical Chamber-of-Commerce speech about the new Nazi unions, which will not be based on class warfare but on the principle that all men are equal with equal rights and responsibilities. The worker will know that the prosperity of industry means his own happiness; the employer will know that the contentment of the workers is the necessary foundation for his own success. Of course the leader principle must replace the democratic-parliamentary system in labor organization as in everything.

The labor movement can never bc solved by a multitude of leaders of different groups. It must have one leader to weld the groups into one army Nature chooses the strong man and he conquers and that is eternally right for victory is proof of the rightness of a cause. No victory was ever gained by coalitions, only by a single leader....

Trades-unions made the mistake of thinking that a combination of weak associations will be strong, but this is all wrong, for experience always shows that the majority represents stupidity and cowardice and therefore if a union is ruled by majority vote it will always act with weakness and stupidity. Also there is then no chance for the selection and encouragement of the best and for their ultimate victory. Labor-unions are therefore enemies of natural selection.

Everything really good in history has been accomplished, not by coalitions but by the success of a single conqueror. Nor will a national state ever arise through the compromising plans of a national labor group but onlythrough the steel-likewill of a single individual.

This is really the extent of Hitler's discussion of trades-unions. He goes on to say that he decided to bore from within, not to start a rival labor organization. Nothing is said of course of the notorious agreement between the Nazi party and the great industrialists whereby the latter promised to finance the movement on condition that the unions be wiped out.

One definite promise was made by Hitler, of work for the unemployed in state labor camps. There had been a growing movement among the young men and girls to form voluntary labor groups, composed of young people of all social classes and there were already thousands working in such camps, giving unpaid service for the Fatherland. But by May it began to be plain that voluntary service was not in accordance with Nazi principles. The Nazi Youth League ăthe only recognized group by then ăpronounced against it, on the ground that it fostered an undisciplined spirit. The question was decided by the government which ordered unwhich ordered unmarried unemployed men between eighteen and twenty-five years to report for compulsory service. The announcement in the papers was as follows:

Voluntary labor service is over. Groups are to be formed in preparation for compulsory work and in each at least 60 percent must be Nazis and Steel Helmets who were such before January 30, 1933. This change is to be effected between now and October 1, by which time an army of 120,000 will be assembled and by the first of next year an army of 350,000 will be ready, but only half can be taken the first six months, then the other half, because of lack of money. Later a whole year's service will be possible. The men who act as leaders will be not only officers but either workmen or youths, and for a short time they too must do all kinds of work in the camp.

A few weeks later Rust, the commissioner for education, said of the compulsory labor camps which were to open August 1:

One of the series of official photographs
of the concentration camps. Here the enemies
of the Nazi government, which include the leaders
of the labor movement, are kept imprisoned

This is a measure to prevent the overfilling of the higher schools and to destroy the cleft between student and worker; it is also a measure for character-training. Intellect is not to be fostered in these camps, but leadership. It will be not militaristic training but a training for the struggle against the philosophy of Marxism and liberalism. The period of liberalism must become a curse to the German worker.

After that there was silence for a while, we heard no more about labor, and then suddenly on June 22, Ley issued a statement in quite a new vein, no flowery sentiments about releasing German workers from Marxist chains and leading them into the promised land. Evidently the blind workers hugged their chains and had made all sorts of trouble for their would-be liberators. It became necessary to deal vigorously with those who were smallminded and selfish enough to cling to their old associations and therefore the Leader had decided to forbid any organizations of any kind except the German Workers Front. Catholic and evangelical bodies were to be regarded as public enemies. Anyway, they were centers of corruption and robbery from which the workers must be protected. The officers of these organizations (whose names were given) were expelled not only from office but from the German Workers Front and the members of the latter must have no dealings with them.

With this ends my information concerning labor in Germany.

WE tried also to discover what was happening to the social services which had reached such a high degree of efficiency under the Republican government, but it was hard to learn any thing definite, partly because the social workers to whom wc had introductions were already either discharged or on compulsory leave. They did not venture to go back to their offices and were dependent on rumor for news of what was happening to their former activities. Not only Jews but Social Democrats, liberals, or people with no political affiliations but closely connected with the former government, almost all of them were at least temporarily suspended from work. Whether any have been readmitted, I cannot say, except that by the middle of June practically every social worker of Jewish blood had been discharged, even the public-health nurses. It meant a very serious crippling of the services, for the majority of the workers came in under one of the above heads.

There were rumors that came to us now and then, an individual instance, such as a building which had been used as a health and recreation center for young mothers with babies, being turned into Nazi barracks; or an old castle which had been made habitable and given to the Pathfinders for a night shelter being turned into a concentration camp for political heretics. But what the real policy of the new regime was, nobody knew. A few significant statements appeared in the papers, without comment. Thus we read that Kerrl, the new head of the penal system, declared that sentimental and softhearted measures with prisoners were to be abandoned. The new prison administration was to be founded on strict discipline and all societies connected with prisons, reformatories, courts, and so on were dissolved.


The central figure is Hermann Goering,
Prussian premier, president of the Reichstag,
aviator, who has the power to dictate what form
relief shall take. He is opposed to public relief

Goering, the soldier aviator, is hardly an expert on relief, yet he has the power to dictate what form it shall take and he is strong for private charity as against public relief. At an official press conference on June 9 he announced the fundamental lines on which the new system of relief is to be organized. "The experience of the past shows that it was a grave error to entrust welfare to public bodies. This meant that public relief was introduced in places where private charity was already sufficient, thus hampering the latter."

An enthusiastic young Hitlerite took us to see the sort of relief which Goering approves, a soup-kitchen maintained by employed Nazis for the unemployed of the party. Each family in which there is a member with a job contributes a pound of food a week to the kitchen. I must say I have never seen a friendlier or cheerier place. It was an old dwelling-house, once grand but now hopelessly shabby; and it was dubiously clean, it was crowded and noisy, but it had an atmosphere of comradeship and warmth and even pride, which no other such place I ever visited had. The kitchen was filled with red-faced, perspiring women stirring great soup-kettles and washing thick bowls, and in two big dining-rooms were crowds of young men eating thick soup and rye bread. Our guide was a stout, hearty, beaming Nazi lady who bustled into each room with a Fascist salute and a loud "Heil" and all the cooks and the diners responded with a "Heil." Nobody paid for the food he ate and nobody asked pay for the work she did.

I might have waxed quite sentimental over it had I not once been a social worker myself and know how little such individual efforts however sweet can do to stem the great tide of hunger and misery in a country like Germany under the present depression. What is to be the Iot of the poor who have no Nazi record, nobody knows.

The Nazi leaders have for years denounced the government of the Republic and now their propaganda is one of unmitigated vilification of all that was done by the state between 1919 and 1933. The Socialists they hold responsible for the Armistice, which they call "a stab in the back," for the army was never defeated, the generals were only too eager to carry on, and had it not been for the Jews and pacifists in Berlin, Germany would have emerged victorious from the War. Having ruined their country in a military sense, the Jews and Marxists proceeded to ruin her economically, through the inflation and then through widespread corruption and robbery. This is reiterated so often that people whose memories should serve them better, begin to believe it.

AS to the charge that Socialists were responsible for the collapse at the Front in the fall of 1918, Philip Scheidemann has answered that in The New York Times. I asked several social workers whether there was any justification for Goebbels' attacks on the Republican government. One of them, whose name is known to most Survey Graphic readers, answered as follows:

It was not a corrupt government and much that it did was of lasting value, but it was partizan and sometimes the program was illiudged. No one party was responsible, city and state governments had to have representatives of all parties and these always fought for places for their followers. Then after the inflation was over and the mark stabilized, the Germans thought prosperity had come to stay and the administrations put up extravagant buildings and laid out parks. But the 6-million-dollar Krankenkassen building in Frankfurt was not more foolish than the enormous building put up by I. G. Farben (the dye and chemical trust) at the same time. Foreign loans were only too easy to get, in fact your American bankers almost forced them on us. However, it is true that there was not, after the War, the same incorruptible official class as before and for the first time the political parties dictated appointments, such as burgomasters, who before were always non-partizan specialists. It is true that the Cabinet was not Socialistic after the first year, but the Department of the Interior always was. Salaries also were higher than before the War. Everywhere except in Bavaria, the officials were practically all Socialistic. The Socialists were not always corrupt, but they did take all offices, even the smallest, for themselves, and they had autos and lived in grand houses. All the old standards, of small salaries and modest living, were gone and men who never before had had large sums of money to spend lost their heads. Now many cities are bankrupt. Hitler and his colleagues are wise enough to live with the utmost simplicity.

A lady who had done volunteer social service before the war also protested against the injustice done to the Republican government by Hitler. She spoke of the twelve-hour day, which obtained in many industries before the War, abolished by the Socialists and she insisted that, with all his unemployment and his miserable dole, the workman is better off in Berlin now than he was then, his housing is better, he has his insurances, he has gained enormously.

Most of the social workers we met could only deplore the effect of the Revolution and look forward with dread to what the future would bring, but I was surprised to meet one who was a convinced convert to Hitlerism. She wasăstill is, I believeăin charge of the women's department in the office for the unemployed in a large industrial city which has suffered terribly from the depression. She said:

In this city the Nazi movement is very welcome. The Communists were such an affliction. We social workers had endless trouble with them, for they wanted evervthing to fail, even the work we were doing for the unemployed. The Communist girls who cooked in our school would sabotage and spoil the food, although it was going to the frec lunches for their own class. They wanted everything to fail because it came from a capitalistic society. Now the Communist leaders are in camps and the followers are turning to the Nazis. After all, it was only misery that made them Communists. We are to be a united Germany now. On May 1 it was so joyful, all of us marched together, employers and employes, officials of the city, the higher with the lower, laborers with white-collar men, for the first time in their lives. You see, it is not as in America, we are not really democratic. Up to now we have always had a wide separation of the classes and it is the great achievement of Hitler's party to do away with classes and make all Germans equal.

In contrast, let me quote a physician who had just read Goebbels' declaration in Hamburg that from now on all Germans who are not Nazis are to be treated as second-class citizens, with no voice in the government and with inferior rights. He said:

More and more, as winter comes on and hunger is as bad as ever, they will divide us into two classes as Russia did, and will take from those that are not Nazis to give to those that are. People say, "If Hitler fails there will be Bolshevism," but I say if he succeeds there will be Bolshevism, for that is what we are getting now by degrees. They are not irrtelligent enough to have a real econornic~program. When they say they will abolish capitalism they do not know they are speaking of a system, they mean only that they will take from some of the rich and give to some of the poor, from the well-to-do of other parties to the poor of their party.

When we were in Germany it was still possible for Hitler's followers to say that they saw in his movement the only hope for a real socialism. An ex-officer in Koenigsberg and a landed proprietor of East Prussia both told me that they had joined the Nazi party because they were disillusioned by the half-way measures of the Republic and were convinced that the National Socialists were at once truly national and truly socialistic. A young man, a recent graduate from the university, spoke with fervor on this subject:

Hitler has from the first preached the brotherhood of man, the breaking away from class distinctions. That is his greatest contribution. The Nazi Party is socialistic in that it places the common good above the individual, in that it is against the liberalism and laissezfaire of capitalism, but it is not Marxist beeause it is against class warfare. The German Nationalist Party is capitalistic and has always played behind thc curtain in the former governments, the socalled socialistic. What the union of German industrialists wanted always went. Now we shall have real socialism, German socialism, all for one and one for all. Hitler promises land to the peasants and relief from their mortgages and debts. He promises to protect the little shopkeeper from the competitiori of the department stores, he is for the people.

The fuhrer uncouples his train

Ley at Geneva for the workers

Hitler and the kings of industry,
finance, land and big shops

Cartoons from other foreign papers reproduced in the French weekly, Lu

There was indeed much to encourage this belief in the speeches that were made by Hitler and his commissars, especially afier the first Congress of Leaders which was held in Berlin on June 17 and 18. The Congress, which was not open to the public, must have been very inspiring for the leaders emerged from it filled with a new zeal for the Revolution and the announcements they made caused joy to their followers but to most of our friends only deep foreboding, even terror. Goering said, "What has happened is nothing to what is to come." Rust said, "We have heard the overture, now the opera begins." The Leaders' Congress had formulated a five-plank platform which was published in the papers on June 19. The first plank called for the principle of "absolute totality" to be carried out by the abolition of Marxism and the absorption of all other parties; in the second, all internationalism was to be driven out of Germany, including not only Marxism but Capitalism, Jewry and Masonic lodges; third, the cleft must be closed between different classes and different religions; fourth, the capitalistic-liberalistic system must be abolished; fifth, the democratic-parliamentary system must go.

This was more categorical than any official announcement since the Revolution and it was a strong confirmation of the socialistic bent of the Nazis. And yet, some three weeks later, on July 11, came Hitler's proclamation that the Revolution was over and Goering's threats against those who thought to carry on as if it still continued. The management of industry was in the hands of a committee of men like Thyssen and Krupp von Bohlen, and though the conservative Hugenberg had had to resign from the Cabinet, his successor was also a representative of big business. The much heralded socialization of the land has been entrusted to the Junkers of Pomerania and East Prussia.

What the convinced Socialists in Hitler's following think of all this we cannot possibly learn, but to outsiders it looks as if the great Revolution were mostly sound and fury; the mountains have travailed and a little mouse has been born.

To Corresponding Photo Essay







Portrait of America: Survey Graphic in the Thirties